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Lawmakers take ‘wait and see’ approach after NY sees $2.3B shortfall

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state was facing the loss of $2.3 billion in planned tax revenue, state lawmakers largely said they would take a wait-and-see approach.

That approach has turned largely to a shrug.

Take for instance the joint legislative hearing on Wednesday for the education portion of the state budget. Nary a question was asked about the revenue issue, which Cuomo has blamed on the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions.

“I anticipated that there might be a question about it,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “But as you know, our budget was put together prior to that determination what shortfalls there might be in the state.”

She added, “I think it will just have to determine how it will play out with the Senate, the Assembly and the governor.”

Education is the second costliest item in the state budget aside from health care. Typically a governor will propose a low-ball figure and the Legislature seeks more money. They meet in the middle. But if revenue is drying up and resources become scarce, spending over schools can lead to anxiety.

Cuomo this year proposed a $956 million increase, along with $338 million in foundation aid. Some lawmakers want much more, at least $3 billion.

“While much remains to be decided and debated before the budget is finalized, today’s education committee hearings showed that there is clear agreement on one thing: that Governor Cuomo’s proposal for Foundation Aid is grossly inadequate to meet the needs of our public school students,” said Jasmine Gripper, the legislative director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an education advocacy group that has sought higher spending on school aid.

If the belt has to tighten this year, budget hawks say lawmakers and Cuomo should be focusing on targeted increases.

“You can probably fund a sound, basic education for all students with a much smaller increase in education aid, but it would be targeted for much smaller districts that aren’t spending enough currently,” said David Friedfel of the Citizens Budget Commission.

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